Counterparties: Passing Abenomics
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The world is questioning the effectiveness of Abenomics — the economic policies advocated by Shinzō Abe, the prime minister of Japan. Abe’s plan to revitalize the country’s sluggish economy seemed to be working, as reflected in the Nikkei which soared to around 15,100 in May from 10,395 in December. That has changed: the Nikkei fell 7% yesterday and is down 20% since its May high, closing at 12,445 Thursday. Swiss hedge fund manager Felix Zulauf said Japan would “cause the next big global crisis”.
The reality is it is probably too soon to tell whether Abenomics is working. The prime minister’s three-pronged plan is certainly ambitious. In order to do “whatever it takes” to hit a 2% inflation target, the Bank of Japan is flooding the markets with money and the government has implemented major fiscal stimulus. Last week, Abe proposed a growth strategy that includes a target to lift per-person income by 40% over 10 years and “a series of deregulated and lightly taxed zones around the country”. Abe has said this is the most important of the three prongs, but The Economist notes that the announcement “left many disappointed by its timidity”.
As far as growth goes, David Keohane points out that “it’s hard to escape the effects of demographic determinism.” Japan has an aging population, a very low fertility rate, and Abe has not yet proposed a great solution to fix this.
What Japan does have going for it is low unemployment, although as Noah Smith has pointed out, a lot of that has to do with falling real wages and women opting out of the labor force. But Joseph Stiglitz is still bullish on Japan, noting that “we see that even after two decades of ‘malaise,’ Japan’s performance is far superior to that of the United States” — if you consider a broader range of factors like inequality and life expectancy. The Nikkei is still up almost 20% since the beginning of the year. — Shane Ferro
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